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Rugby academy helping young people be the best they can be

Members of the Maori and Pasifika Rugby academy
Members of the Maori and Pasifika Rugby academy

Rugby is inspiring young people to succeed in study, sport and life, say those behind the new Maori and Pasifika Rugby Academy.

Academy manager Jack Kirifi says the partnership between the Taranaki Rugby Football Union and Feats is a success story.

“Aside from the rugby aspect, it is improving the self-esteem and self-confidence of these young people – showing they have a role to play in our community and helping them become the best they can be,” he says.

“In terms of rugby, the main purpose is to improve their skills and, hopefully, open the doors to higher honours.”

This year, four members of the first intake of 11 were selected to attend NZ Rugby regional under -18 Maori training camps, which is the first step towards national selection. One player was selected to attend a second training camp.

“So, it has shown these young people that if you work hard, in whatever aspect of your life, you can open doors to further success,” Jack says.

Feats CEO Cheree Menzies says that after its first full year of operation, the academy students – ten males and one female – will exceed the qualification completion achievement for Maori and Pasifika learners from the education organisation’s generic NCEA programmes.

This shows the need for the rugby academy, which involves students taking NCEA Level 1 and Level 2 subjects covering fitness, coaching, employment skills, food safety and tikanga Maori.

Cheree says the students, identified as high-priority learners, are based at Feats’ Stratford campus, enabling access Taranaki wide.

Each Tuesday and Thursday they head to the TRFU headquarters in New Plymouth to train using the Yarrow Stadium facilities. They have even trained with The Chiefs.

“In the gym we do a lot of strength training, testing and fitness, while our rugby focus is on improving the core skills of catching and passing, tackling, evasive running, taking the high ball and decision-making,” Jack says.

There is also an emphasis on teamwork, both on and off the field.

“Rugby is a great vehicle for these young people to develop life skills – communication, teamwork, responsibility, empathy, and a strong work ethic – which will help them when they go out into the workforce.”

The academy began as a trial in September 2016 and this year it ran full-time, Cheree says.

To be accepted students have a two-week trial period and whanau are part of the interview programme. Each day begins with karakia and tikanga is an integral part of the academy’s delivery.

Both Cheree and Jack would like to see the academy grow, so more young people get the chance to play rugby at a higher level or get into coaching.

Jack says he loves running the academy and knows how inspiring he would have found it.

“Having come from Samoa in the late 1970s as a teenager, my English wasn’t great, and I found it hard to fit into the system.

“Rugby was always a passion and it was through rugby that I found my feet, improved my confidence and self-esteem, met people and grew as a person. So, I have an affiliation with these young people, understand where they are at in their lives and want them to develop and be the best they can be.”

TSB Community Trust provided a grant of $40,000 in 2016 towards the 2017 academy programme.

Maria Ramsay, the Trust’s Chief Executive says supporting the academy was a great way for the Trust to further its commitment to supporting youth development in the region.